Many of us autistics live outside our comfort zone. We have to as most of life is outside of it!
What if I suggested to you that life outside your comfort zone is an okay thing?
Would that freak you out? Maybe not. And for the simple reason mentioned above!
But what if I further suggested that we leave behind the idea of a comfort zone and focus instead on the idea of safety. What if we focus on learning the boundary between safe and unsafe, rather than on the idea of comfort?
If we shift our focus in this manner, at some point, safe will begin to feel comfortable.
How does that feel?
I DO Love My Comfort Zone,…
I gotta be honest, I love to be comfortable as much as the next gal. My happy place? Sitting on the couch tucked under a heavy blanket with a good book.
I also like to closely manage my people time and deal with folks on my own timetable. Small gatherings, love them. Large, intense, intellectual projects, are like a warm fire on a cold snowy night!
I definitely know where my comfort zone is, and I would love to stay in it. I feel all dreamy just thinking about it! Aaaahhhh!!!
…But It’s Pretty Small!
But with such a small comfort zone, staying in it becomes unsafe. I wouldn’t be able to earn a living or have meaningful relationships if I stayed in my little bubble. I would never have published this article or any of my other writings had I stayed comfy. I wrote about puberty for goodness sake (“Autism and Puberty: Get Your Daughter Ready!”) I have to tell you that was WAY outside my comfort zone.
I WANT to succeed, I WANT to get to know people, and I WANT to learn and grow. And wanting those things and doing those things is SAFE, at least for me. It helps me maintain my self-esteem, confidence, and need for human contact. I need those things.
It’s not always comfortable!
But if I stayed in my comfortable little bubble, over the long run, I would begin to lose my overall health. It isn’t safe to cut yourself from the world; it’s not healthy.
In essence, I want to be safe more than I want to be comfortable. So what do I do? I put on my smiley face, venture out into the world, and dive in.
I now know that I can let go of a reality that’s not safe. I can survive the discomfort of change, and reach a safer even more comfortable place on the other side.
Let me say it another way: I have to let go of comfort, and go through a period of discomfort so I can be safe and (drumroll) more comfortable!!!
What Is “Comfortable”?
What do I mean when I say comfortable?
Well, for me, it’s what I know — what’s predictable.
Comfortable, I think, to many, means familiar.
We become so familiar with particular people, foods, spending habits, and jobs that we don’t want to leave. We don’t want to change. Leaving means we leave behind what we know and what has become predictable even when it’s not safe for us to stay.
Let’s face it, change is hard, and it can be scary.
Let’s take a few examples of the struggle between comfortable and safe:
Have you ever been in a bad relationship, but been unwilling to leave? Maybe you didn’t want to be alone, you thought you couldn’t get someone else, or worse, you thought didn’t deserve better?
My friend, you were “comfortable,” but not safe. I have sooo been there. I stayed in terrible relationships until I was damaged professionally, financially, and personally. Why? Because it was all I knew. The message to me was that I could never make it on my own, and after a time I came to believe it.
I went from comfortable to safe when “comfortable” became unbearably painful.
What did I find when I finally developed the courage to change?
Freedom so sweet I still to this day can’t believe it! I get to start the day knowing that no one is going to lie to me, cheat on me, manipulate me, use me, or sabotage me!
Can I have an “Amen?” It was definitely an answered prayer for me!
I learned that surrounding yourself with right, safe people makes all the difference. I could never have learned that in the situations I had been in. The unsafe people drive the safe ones away. That is how they stay in power.
(If you want to learn more about safe people, you can check out my post, “My GREATEST Struggle As An Autism: Identifying Safe People.”)
What about refusing to try new foods? Many of us with autism, especially kiddos, eat way too few foods.
I am one of those “adventurous” girls that likes bland food and always orders the same thing at a restaurant. I actually don’t think what others think of as bland is bland to me at all as I tend toward hypersensitive. The result was that my diet was made up of mostly the same foods eaten over and over.
It wasn’t until we were forced to go on diets like GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) that I began to realize how unsafe this “comfortable” diet was for me. When I added lots of healthy and diverse choices to my menu, I felt better, my head cleared, and I had tons more energy!
Find yourself buying something you shouldn’t at the store or binge shopping when you find a great sale? Probably. Comfortable? Sure. Safe? No!!
My daughters believed you shopped sale racks and the other racks were on hold until the items went on sale. That is not an exaggeration of how things used to be. Poor things!
It didn’t help that if we dared to buy nice things for ourselves, we were met with anger and ridicule on our return home. Remember those bad relationships?
Now? I’m free from the message that I’m not good enough and don’t deserve nice things. I save up for things I like and want and buy myself things that are nice and will stand the test of time. If I can wait to buy those things on sale, awesome. I buy LESS, much less, by purchasing only items I need or want rather than getting sucked into sales.
Because I am buying nice things that I need, I feel better about the things I own and myself. I actually had to learn that it was okay to enjoy my belongings! It still surprises me how much less I spend and how much better I feel using this shopping philosophy. Had I remained comfortable but unsafe, I wouldn’t be enjoying life nearly as much!
Okay, one more: Have a job you hate that stresses you out? Afraid afraid or unmotivated to leave either by finding something better?
Comfortable, but not safe.
I had a job that caused me so much anxiety it brought me to my knees. I hated it. Really hated it. I even tried to quit several times as it was taking a tremendous toll on my physical and mental health.
Never before had I experienced this type of stress from a simple job. Also, my kiddos were beginning to experience some health issues. Long story short, the market tanked and a layoff arose. Because the layoff came with a severance, I requested that I be let go.
Sounds easy, right? No way!
I waffled back and forth. The world says you don’t give up a job unless you have a job. The world says you need a job to have insurance, vacation time, a steady paycheck. It says you have to suck up whatever mistreatment your employer dishes out.
I got up the nerve to write up my email request to be laid off and sat with my finger hovering over the “send” button. When I couldn’t do it, I phoned a friend who spent another half an hour helping me get up the courage to push the button.
I did it.
My life since then? While not as financially secure, it is 100% better in all other regards. I would like to earn more money, but I am happier than I have been in a very long time. The people I left at that company? The ones I have spoken to anyway still live with the same issues I had been experiencing. The people I knew who left the company when I did or shortly thereafter? They are pursuing newer and cooler opportunities. We left behind the “comfortable” in favor of the safe.
Familiar Maybe Is Not The Same As Comfortable!
So with these examples, you may be seeing that what we think of as our comfort zone isn’t always that comfortable at all. Yeah, I am super comfortable on my couch with a book and a blanket. As long as I am not shirking my responsibililties, I am safe as well. In the other examples, I was clinging to the familiar, scared to try something new, to believe in myself. In clinging to the familiar, I was shorting myself, my growth and my health at the same time.
No, I am not telling you to leave your relationships and quit your job! I am suggesting to you that you reconsider how you make the decisions about what you allow in your life. Reconsider your desire to be “comfortable.”
You can be happy if you are uncomfortable but safe. You may struggle to be happy if you are “comfortable” but unsafe.
Even now when I say it that way, it sounds a little crazy. If you ask whether something is comfortable and then ask if it is safe, it looks different. It’s not one question. It’s two. Next, ask yourself if you are willing to give up your “comfort” to be safe. Now it doesn’t look so crazy at all!
My New Comfort Zone? Sometimes Uncomfortable, But Safe
We live outside our comfort zone anyway, many of us. Though we rarely get credit for it, it is actually one of our strengths. Most of the world grossly underestimates our ability to face down discomfort.
People see “meltdowns” and struggles because those are visible. Our insane wins, our determination, and courage are often invisible.
Why do I point this out? If you’re in an unsafe situation you probably already have the skill to be uncomfortable. You need only apply it to whatever context you choose to reach safety.
Here is the hardest part to face, but maybe the most freeing:
We work our tails to the bone to please others and to meet their expectations. Much of the time we are doing that, we are uncomfortable. Sometimes we even give up our own identity. (Check out my post, “Dear Women With Autism: Be ‘Chameleons’ No More, Let’s Get To Know YOU!”)
Aren’t you worth that same effort?
Shouldn’t you work harder to care for yourself than you do for others?
You have the skill, all you have to do is to continue to use it for your own benefit.
I came to this last realization the hard way. I let myself be nearly destroyed before I decided to fight for me rather than fighting for someone else.
My lesson learned? I now much prefer safety to “comfort.” I make my decisions based on what is safe for me rather than what is familiar.
Each time I choose safety, it becomes more comfortable. I become more willing to take the first steps toward to get there. Sometimes if the step feels big, I enlist the advice and help of a friend or professional. I carefully consider whether this step is in my best interest and then I proceed.
So where do you live now? Are you comfortable or are you safe, or both?
And where do you want to live?
Only you can answer these questions for you. Your answers may be completely different than mine.
My encouragement to you?
Care enough about yourself to choose to be safe! Ask for help getting there if you need it. Because you are enough. Just you!
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